RTÉ board says 'no excuse' for Reynolds defamation

RTÉ board says 'no excuse' for Reynolds defamation

The board of RTÉ has said there is no excuse for the defamation of a missionary priest wrongly accused of rape by the once-flagship journalism 'Prime Time Investigates' programme.

In a two-hour meeting with Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, the 13 members made no attempt to defend the show over the Father Kevin Reynolds scandal.

RTÉ was fined €200,000 and reporter Aoife Kavanagh quit after a media watchdog probe found it broadcast serious, damaging and untrue allegations about Fr Reynolds by wrongly accusing him of raping a minor and fathering a child while working in Kenya 30 years ago.

Mr Rabbitte did not seek resignations from the board and none of the members offered to step down.

“There was no attempt by the board of RTÉ to defend what happened. The chairman described it as inexplicable and indefensible. Some other members of the board perhaps used stronger terms,” the minister said.

“I’m satisfied that the board fully appreciates the seriousness of what’s happened.

“The board attempted to offer no excuse for what happened. The board accepts that it ought not happen and that it did damage not just to the reputation of Fr Reynolds but also did damage to the reputation of RTÉ.

“There was no defence offered for what happened. The systems failed.

“I’m satisfied that the board understands fully and comprehensively the gravity of what has happened.”

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland criticised the secret filming of the cleric and the lack of note taking, and highlighted the significant failure of editorial and managerial controls within the organisation.

Fr Reynolds, who had threatened to sue before the 'Mission To Prey' programme was broadcast, was later cleared when two tests proved he was not the child’s father. The station made an out-of-court settlement with the priest, believed to be about €1m.

'Prime Time Investigates' was taken off-air for good in the aftermath of the defamation scandal.

Elsewhere in the broadcaster, head of news Ed Mulhall took early retirement while editor Ken O’Shea and producer Brian Pairceir were moved to new roles in RTÉ. Mark Lappin who also worked on the programme has left for a new post.

Mr Rabbitte also said he was confident that the recommendations from investigations in the scandal would be implemented.

They include new rules that all communications from solicitors regarding content should be forwarded to the legal affairs department and a review of guidelines on both surreptitious filming and doorsteps.

Former BBC executive Anna Carragher was tasked by the BAI with investigating the documentary and she concluded that RTÉ had been unfair to Fr Reynolds and had breached his privacy.

It also warned of a so-called group-think mentality and lack of scrutiny; insufficient questioning of the primary source’s credibility; and the late involvement of the legal section in RTÉ.

Ms Kavanagh resigned on Friday night after the report was published but refused to accept all of its findings.

RTÉ has admitted that the defamation was one of the most significant errors made in its broadcasting history and that the material should never have been broadcast.

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